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In a Taliban hotbed, a woman runs for Pakistan's parliament

By Aliza Kassim and Matt Smith, CNN
updated 11:17 AM EDT, Tue April 9, 2013
Badam Zari, a candidate for upcoming Pakistani general elections speaks to potential voters during her campaign on April 2.
Badam Zari, a candidate for upcoming Pakistani general elections speaks to potential voters during her campaign on April 2.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Badam Zari is running for Pakistan's parliament in a Taliban hotbed
  • Her platform includes better services and education for girls
  • "I am standing for a noble cause with a clean heart," she says
  • She's the first woman to seek office in the federal tribal districts

(CNN) -- Badam Zari is a novelty in the tribal districts of northern Pakistan.

Like many women in the towns along the Afghan border, the 38-year-old Zari has only a grade-school education. But unlike others before her, she's taking her frustrations with conditions in her hometown into the political arena.

Zari is the first woman to run for Pakistan's parliament from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the restive region that has become a hotbed of the Taliban. Disgusted with what she says is the failure of the established political parties to improve things, she's running as an independent.

"They kept on making promises and never fulfilled them," she said. "Each time, new promises were made, and a new person took over, and nothing happened -- we just kept on waiting."

Opinion: Why there is no peace time for women

When election day comes in May, Zari hopes to win one of the 60 seats set aside for women in the 342-seat National Assembly. She campaigns in the traditional head-to-toe garb worn by Muslim women in Bajaur Agency, calling for peace, jobs and proper basic services -- garbage collection, electricity and clean water.

She's also an advocate of education for all children, girls as well as boys. That's a dangerous position in a region where the Taliban shot and grievously wounded a 15-year-old girl who pushed for sending girls to school.

"I have faith in God, and I know I am standing for a noble cause with a clean heart," she said. "I have nothing to be scared of."

Zari's own father forced her to drop out of school in the fifth grade. But she has been involved in local civic and charitable work, and has pondered a run for office for several years.

"The village elders did not like the fact that I walked through the town to get to school," she said. "I am now 38 years old, and I do not want any other little girls to be kept from going to school just because society doesn't think it is right or proper."

She also has the support of her husband, Sultan Mohammed, a school teacher. He said he knows his wife's life could be in danger, but believes God will give him strength and her success.

"I am very happy that she has decided to stand in the elections," he said. "I have promised her that I will do whatever she wants me to do in support of her."

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